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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beth Orton: The Other Side Of Daybreak

BETH ORTON: THE OTHER SIDE OF DAYBREAK (2003)

1) Ooh Child; 2) Thinking About Tomorrow (PG Dub); 3) Ali's Waltz; 4) Daybreaker (Four Tet remix); 5) Bobby Gentry; 6) Carmella (Four Tet remix); 7) Beautiful World; 8) Concrete Sky (acoustic); 9) Daybreaker (Roots Manuva remix); 10) Anywhere (Two Lone Swordsmen remix vocal).

It is not often that an album of outtakes, remixes, and rarities outshines the mothership to which it is appended as an afterthought / bonus-for-the-fans, but, depending on how you feel about Day­breaker, this might just be the proverbial case. There is no question, at the very least, that The Other Side is a much more diverse and much less predictable compilation; so if you thought, like me, that the monotonous moodiness of Daybreaker was somewhat limp and lifeless rather than mesmerizing, welcome to the other side. It is less ambitious and completely dis-conceptual, but at least it does not make you want to go to sleep and never wake up.

The series of remixes offered here significantly raises the bar on the -tronica segment of «folk­tronica», which is good — ʽAnywhereʼ, for instance, is transformed from a boring jazz-pop stan­dard (bordering on adult contemporary) into something livelier, darker, and notably more psy­chedelic than it used to be, and the same goes for ʽThinking About Tomorrowʼ, which is now all awash in astral noises and more reminiscent of Massive Atack than confessional singer-songwri­ting. The most radical transformation, however, happened to ʽCarmellaʼ, which used to be a three-minute country-pop single and now is an 11-minute long extravaganza, a huge sonic soup in which Four Tet, the remixer, crams every sort of digital and analog noise imaginable (the three-minute coda should be subtitled «The Amazing Life of Giant Robot Insects», and who cares that it is completely unrelated to the original song?).

The electronic remixes are interspersed with a couple of really good originals — ʽBobby Gentryʼ, on which Beth lowers her voice so much that she almost sings like a modern day Nico in places, combines acoustic folk backing with pseudo-mid-Eastern string arrangements, giving the song some majesty, mystique, and a pinch of roughness that was nowhere near in sight on Daybreaker; and the tender acoustic rendition of the old soul hit ʽOoh Childʼ by The Five Stairsteps brings on that criminal thought that maybe the lady should do more covers and less originals, at least when she cannot bring the originals to boil. Finally, there is a very good acoustic rendition of ʽConcrete Skyʼ that sounds not only more intimate, but every bit as catchy as the fully arranged original — that Johnny Marr guy writes some rock-solid material, doesn't he?

All in all, there is not all that much to say here, as usual, but that shouldn't stop you from searching out this album if you care at all about the artist, or, for that matter, the various artists from the electronica scene that helped her produce it. If it was intended as an intentional «anti­thesis» to the weightier, more «serious» and «personal» Daybreaker, it should count as an integ­ral part of Orton's discography, because «serious» and «personal» is not really what she does best; it is the inexhaustible bag of tricks that she gradually exploits with her various partners that matters, breaking barriers between tradition and futurism like some sort of female Beck. Ah, if only she also had Beck's sense of humor as well — but I guess that would be asking for too much. Anyway, an unexpected thumbs up here, as much as I expected to hate this album.

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